In these perilous times of widespread unrest over racial injustice and pandemic, we implore all Minnesotans to consider these words – all of them -- from Sondra Samuels, President and CEO of the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ). Sondra has been a tireless, constructive and effective leader for education equity and racial justice. Growth & Justice has been closely allied with NAZ and the Education Partnerships Coalition, a group of locally organized community education partnerships in both the Twin Cities and in Greater Minnesota that are focused on improving outcomes for children of color and from low-income families. Sondra’s entire statement is reprinted below from the NAZ website.
In the past four days, we, the citizens of Minneapolis and Minnesota have witnessed and experienced the death of three precious human beings who were predictably, African Americans – one man, one woman, and one child. Two were killed by outright murder and racism, the other by environmental racism and injustice. One in North Minneapolis, the other two in South Minneapolis. Two died from an inability to breathe.
The man, George Floyd, was murdered at the hands of racist white police officers, who would have never let a white man plead for his life and die at the bottom of their knee without compassionately relenting. The woman, a warrior for the welfare of her children and for the children of the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), Saleemah Shabazz Salahud-Din, was killed by a totally preventable asthma attack which was caused in part by environmental racism exacerbated by the stresses of COVID-19. And one 17-year-old boy named, Tae, who was gunned down at a gas station around the corner from my house in North Minneapolis, also the repercussions of historical and systemic racism which leaves too many of our sons with no economic, political, educational, or social options but to engage in underground economies and organizations for their livelihoods and safety.
In light of the tragedies that have befallen our city and state, I spent time reflecting on the preamble to our constitution, the constitution of MINNESOTA, which declares and promises…
“We, the people of the state of Minnesota, grateful to God for our civil and religious liberty, and desiring to perpetuate its blessings and secure the same to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution.”
We, the people…grateful to God for our civil liberty, (Webster defines civil as, “of or relating to the state of its citizenry…civilized…adequate in courtesy and politeness: MANNERLY”).
Clearly, George Floyd’s freedoms as a citizen of Minnesota were denied. Mr. Floyd, whose only guilt was being black and possibly resisting arrest at one point, something that white people do routinely and walk away with their lives. A white police officer held his knee to George’s throat for eight minutes for these apparent transgressions. Choking the life from George with a knee instead of a rope as was the custom in my daddy’s day. Today in America and in Minneapolis, MN, when it comes to Black men, the lynching rope has been replaced by the gun, chokehold, and the knee.
We, the people…desiring to perpetuate its blessings and secure the same for ourselves and our posterity, (Webster defines posterity as all future generations).
The blessing of health and life was denied a Ms. Saleemah Shabazz Salahud–Din who was the loving mother of four beautiful children, ages five to fourteen years old. She spent her life working on behalf of all children often testifying at the Capitol about the need for early childhood scholarships for low-income families so that ALL CHILDREN could benefit from a quality start in life, not just middle class or wealthy children. She was also a lead parent organizer for NAZ – always using her voice for children, always hoping, always trying to enroll other mothers and fathers, and always believing that their engagement mattered. With African Americans dying from Asthma at three times the rate of white Americans, the complicity of businesses that produce toxic and asthma-inducing chemicals (and the cities that allow them to do so) is unconscionable. These businesses being disproportionately located in and near black neighborhoods is undeniable, as is the case in North Minneapolis where Saleemah and her children also lived at one time.
And finally, the murder of our child, Tae, whom not surprisingly, nothing has been written about yet. We don’t know the details, but he was more than likely gunned down by another desperate young black man who knows he will grow up to be devalued like George Floyd. Our young men and boys know that police and others have historically been able to murder them with impunity because they are considered thugs by authorities, uneducable by our education establishment, deadbeat dads by the courts, and too aggressive (sexually and physically) by society in general. This irrational fear of Black men drives destructive violence in all of our systems and demoralizes the entire African American community.
WE, THE PEOPLE….
I implore you, the compassionate, loving, and humane citizens of Minneapolis and the state of Minnesota, let us create a new day so that George, Saleemah, and Tae have not died in vain. Let us use the gift of the “GREAT PAUSE” that COVID-19 is providing to reflect and commit to new values of equity and justice for ALL. Let us commit to a new day of love and compassion for Black men, women and children; a new day where we hold police officers accountable to protect and serve us instead of murdering us; a new day where we actively work to end all forms of racism, first within ourselves and then within the body politic, including white body supremacy which devalues and fears black bodies; a new day where we spend our lives ensuring that the achievement gap is eradicated and the housing, health, wealth, and employment gaps are a thing of the past; a new day where we willingly sacrifice some of our own comfort for the comfort of others too long denied; a new day where the right and the left forge a new middle ground of compromise restoring rationality; a new day where all of God’s people have the courage to speak out against injustice even when it is coming from the selfish interests of their own group; a new day where the promises of the state constitution are for more than just its white citizens; a new day where all of God’s Black and brown children, Indigenous children, Latinx children, and Asian children, can shout from the mountain tops, EQUITY AT LAST, JUSTICE AT LAST, THANK GOD ALMIGHTY MINNESOTA HAS EQUITY and JUSTICE AT LAST!
Sondra Samuels, NAZ President and CEO